Chop Shop stirs senses through dance | The Eastside Scene

All chopped up, it looks like this: Love and loss, compassion and anger, resentment and rage.

But altogether, dance tells stories that share these universal themes — and creates unified experiences for those who watch or perform it.

Chop Shop: Bodies of Work is bringing the powerful art form of contemporary dance to Bellevue for its 11th annual festival Feb. 17-18. The festival presents extraordinary contemporary dance from Seattle and beyond, alongside the Chop Shop master class series and free community dance classes.

The event presents the thought-provoking work of eight local and national choreographers, who are united through their power to stir the senses. The 2018 performing artists are Alicia Mullikin|MORENA (Seattle), Bellingham Repertory Dance (Bellingham), Courtney Mazeika in collaboration with Marlie Couto (Berkeley), Kyle Davis (Seattle), Mari Meade Dance Collective (Brooklyn), Spectrum Dance Theater (Seattle), Stewart/Owen Dance (Asheville, NC), and The Stone Dance Collective /Eva Stone (Eastside).

The Reporter recently asked Stone, the festival’s producer, the following questions.

What is the history behind the name “Chop Shop” and what does it mean?

Honestly, it just popped into my head upon searching for a title for this festival. I liked the idea/image of something large made of small parts that may or may not exactly go together, but function beautifully as a whole. This festival is about presenting a wide and unique array of choreographers under one mission: to make our abstract art form more accessible to new audiences. One lucky trait I have is that I am never short of ideas. They are not always the best ideas, but I’m never without one. And I have learned to trust my “first hit” — and this was definitely a first hit idea. An unusual name, and it does puzzle some people. Hopefully their curiosity will drive them to come see what we are all about.

How did Chop Shop’s dance festival come to Bellevue?

As a long-time member of the Seattle dance community, a large portion of my early years of teaching were on the Eastside. There was a significant absence of professional contemporary dance on the Eastside. (That’s code for “there was none.”) I self-produced the first festival in 2008 and was honestly surprised at the solid turn out and incredible feedback. Over the past 10 years, Chop Shop has presented over 60 dance companies/choreographers and almost 100 dance works, many of them world premiers. We couldn’t do this without the important support from the Bellevue Arts Commission, 4Culture and city of Bellevue Parks and Community Services Department who have helped us sustain the free community outreach program we run in partnership with the festival (the Experience Dance Program.) As a small nonprofit, (there’s only two of us) I’m thrilled we have lasted this long, and ever more proud of the national/international attention we have received over the years. We built this festival specifically for the Eastside/Bellevue residents, and we still work incredibly hard to get the word out to our local communities.

Why has it stayed in Bellevue?

Artistically, Bellevue is continnually growing and developing. We curate work that we think matches that growth and/or compliments it. Getting the community interested and engaged with contemporary dance is never-ending work, but we believe once we have you turned on, we like to think we have you for the long run. Bellevue possesses an incredibly dynamic population and we are working hard to speak to that by demonstrating how dance relates to all of us. Understanding contemporary dance can be challenging, but we take the time to break it down and show how it relates to each of us and our individual experiences. We would like to think our work is one small way this community can find unified experiences. Dance is a powerful art form, for sure.

What is the story you hope to tell through Bodies of Work?

That dance tells stories, that all movement communicates, and that choreographers use the medium of the body, along with movement and sound and light, in order to share our universal themes: love, loss, humor, compassion, anger, resentment, rage. Dance is no different from poetry, theater, song writing, cooking or gardening. All require creative thought, ideas, sensations, memories and choices. All have the goal of communicating, expressing or sharing those ideas to inevitably connect with someone else. Above all, it’s my strong belief that, at the end of the day, it’s about human beings being able to observe other human beings creating something miraculous.

Being that it’s near Valentine’s Day, is there or has there been an ongoing theme surrounding love?

It definitely marks the other great love of my life (my wonderful husband Richard and my two beautiful kids question me about what/who I love more — and the answer is, well, obvious, right?) My welcome speeches prior to the show are, well let’s say, unique, and the first one I created was an actual love letter that I wrote for the Chop Shop audience and then read aloud to them. If you haven’t figured it out already, I am obsessed with this art form and have dedicated a 30-year career to convincing others to love it, too.

How is this year’s Chop Shop festival different from past years?

The exciting thing about Chop Shop is that every year is different from the one before it. The response to our “call to artists” brings in over 150 applicants from all over the world. Last year was an exception as we celebrated our 10th anniversary with a “greatest hits” version of the festival, bringing back some of the most popular work that had been presented from past festivals. It was the hardest show to curate, as we would have easily created a show that lasted two whole days to present all of the great work that has been brought to our stage. We have added a “talkback” after each of the performances this year, responding to request from some of our audience members who want the opportunity to chat with the choreographers and ask questions about the work they are presenting.

What styles of dance will be featured?

Because contemporary dance is an art form that is artistically structured and designed from each choreographer’s individual perspective, a wide stylistic range of dance influences can be seen in each artist’s work. Audiences will see the essence of classical ballet, hip hop, ballroom, yoga, modern dance, crumping, gaga and disco. It’s all in there! And the work presented is accessible, but is equally thought-provoking and challenging.

What have been some successes of Chop Shop?

Our true success is found in the number of people that Chop Shop has invited into this art form through the Experience Dance Program. We also get very excited about the connections that are made between artists who perform with us. Many backstage chats have led to collaborations outside of the festival. The master classes that take place during the daytime hours of the festival give students of dance an opportunity to work with the artists, and some have found extraordinary opportunities from that exchange. My personal satisfaction is found when one audience member approaches me after a show and can’t stop talking about something they saw. Audience responses have ranged from tears to heart-felt elation. Chop Shop’s success is directly connected to the kind of images and emotions you are talking about long after the show has ended.

What have been some challenges?

Oh, that is an easy one. Funding. Always funding. We face the same challenges as every other small nonprofit. Unfortunately, the longer an event is produced, the more expensive it becomes. We have kept ticket prices low (and every participant of the free Experience Dance Program gets a $5 ticket to the performances) in an effort to make this festival feasible for all of our patrons. Additionally, there is a huge challenge to building and maintaining a community around a two-day annual event, and it’s increasingly more difficult to fundraise for this to properly compensate the artists for their work. We have a lot of very generous people who donate their talents, time and money. Without them, we would be in very dire straits. Fortunately, we have created and maintained a way to do our most favorite things: support dance artists, present great dance art and share that work with enthusiastic audiences. I ask you, what more could two women want?

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Come see this show and keep dance and art alive on the Eastside. Note: We are also creating a signature Chop Shop cocktail (available at the bar for 21 and up) to help ring in the next decade of great contemporary dance.

More information

Chop Shop: Bodies of Work, A Contemporary Dance Festival for all ages runs at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 17 and 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 18 at Meydenbauer Center Theatre, 11100 NE 6th St., Bellevue. Cost is $15-$28 and tickets may be purchased at For more information, visit

Dancer Molly Levy in the Chop Shop’s 2017 poster image. Photo courtesy of Rachel Neville

Dancer Molly Levy in the Chop Shop’s 2017 poster image. Photo courtesy of Rachel Neville